The 2011 USPS Nationals of Canopy Piloting has officially come to an end. The competition was held at Skydive Spaceland in Rosharon, TX. This year two members of the Golden Knights competed against 48 other skydivers from across the US. SFC Greg Windmiller, a seasoned canopy piloting competitor, faced off against 33 jumpers in the Open class. SSG Joe Abeln, competing in his first Nationals of Canopy Piloting, competed against 17 in the Advanced class.
The Golden Knight Canopy Piloting Team arrived a week early to take advantage of several training jumps on the largest “Swoop Pond” in the country. During the training jumps SFC Windmiller offered coaching and video debriefs to SSG Abeln and several other jumpers competing in their first National Competition.
On Tuesday a northern California jumper miscalculated his first turn at Skydive Spaceland and struck the water with a high rate of speed. The Golden Knights Canopy Piloting Team assisted the jumper out of the water and assessed his condition. The Golden Knights recommended that he should seek medical attention but the jumper refused. After a short time elapsed the GK Canopy Piloting Team and another competitor Brandon Coates who is a MD reassessed the jumper and insisted on taking him to the hospital. He reluctantly agreed and the Golden Knights drove him to the hospital. Once there he was treated for life threatening injuries. With the help of the Golden Knights and Brandon Coates the jumper is making a full recovery.
Thursday was the first day of the competition and started out early with a 7:30am take off. All of the jumpers were eager to get started knowing that by the afternoon the winds would be above limitations. The Speed event was ran first. The jumpers fly as fast as they can below five feet high course markers with a 75 degree carve. The jumper sets off an electronic sensor entering and leaving the course marking the time it takes to fly from the entry gate to the exit gate. Each jumper performs three jumps in each event. SFC Windmiller had the fastest time of the meet with a blistering 2.472 second run. After the Speed event was finished the jumpers had a short break will the Zone Accuracy course was set up.
During the Zone Accuarcy event the canopy pilots drag their toe across four water gates then try to land standing up in one of the scoring zones. Unfortunately after the first round the winds had picked up and put the competition on hold until the next day.
On Friday morning the jumpers again started out with a 7:30 wheels up call. The day started out with the distance event where the jumpers simply fly below a five feet high gate then try to fly as far as they can. The winds throughout the day increased to right at the wind limits of the meet, 7 meters per second. This made it very difficult for the pilots to set up and maneuver through the gates. The weather once again kept all the jumpers on the ground. Several of the competitors were awarded rejumps due to the winds exceeding the limits within 30 seconds of their runs. The rejumps would have to wait until Saturday when the meet would resume.
On Saturday only two rounds of Zone Accuracy and the rejumps were left. Mother nature once again let her presence known bringing some much needed rain to the area, although briefly pausing the final day of the competition. By early Saturday afternoon all of the jumps were complete and an award ceremony and banquet were left to close out the 2011 Nationals of Canopy Piloting.
At the award ceremony, medals were given for each event and overall. SSG Joe Abeln was very excited to take home the Bronze medal in the Distance event, the Gold Medal in the Zone Accuracy event, and the Overall Gold Medal for the competition. An impressive showing for his first US Nationals.
SFC Greg Windmiller finished 8th out of 33 of the best canopy pilots in the country. His top 10 finish earned him a spot on the US Dubai Cup team that will head over seas in November.